The Good Girl (Damaged Book 1), page 1
The DAMAGED Series
THE GOOD GIRL
a DAMAGED Novel
Copyright © 2019 Jenna Mills
All rights reserved.
Cover design by Magnolia Lane Books
Book design by Magnolia Lane Books
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means
including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author.
The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.
This book is a work of fiction.
Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely fictitious.
Author website: authorjennamills.wixsite.com/jennamills
Printed in the United States of America
First Printing: August 2018
Magnolia Lane Books
We’re all damaged, every single one of us. It’s not a flaw. The key is how you handle the wound. If you grow, or if you stagnate. If you heal, or if you fester. This book is for everyone who has stumbled, but discovered that simply because you fall, doesn’t mean you have to stay down.
ALMOST DYING CHANGES you.
You can never be the same person you were before. You see the world differently. You feel different. You want different. Things that didn’t matter before, that you barely thought about, suddenly have the power to send you to your knees. But things that did matter, that consumed your every waking breath, well, some of them go away.
But not all.
The choices you make, they’re different, too. You realize there might not be a tomorrow. Those things you put off, going places, doing things, saying things, you suddenly realize the chance might never come again.
There’s no going back. That’s normal. I’ve been told that hundreds of times by every well-meaning person I know, and by some I don’t know at all. The doctors and nurses. The cops. My parents. My former teachers and coach, even my principal, who actually cried when she saw me in the hospital. My aunt and my neighbors and my boyfriend’s—
No. He wasn’t my boyfriend, not anymore.
His mother said we could still be friends. That she still loved me and wanted to see me, but that felt awkward. I could see the dark sheen of pity in her eyes, and I hated it. It was the way my shrink looked at me, with this awful, silent knowing, as if I was transparent and he could see the twisted wreckage inside me.
But not everything changed. I knew that, too. Maybe my view of life was different, but I was still me: I was still planning to start college in the fall; I still wanted to go into special education; and I still wanted to pick up all the pieces left by one very huge betrayal and find a way to move forward.
It was all I thought about.
“Emily? Are you still with us?”
I looked from the window, where the gorgeous Flatirons jutted against a picture-blue sky, toward the far side of the mid-century modern office, where Dr. Ian Rivers sat in his swanky leather chair. It was magazine-worthy, like you’d see in a spread featuring a cool, polished advertising executive. I always thought that’s why Dr. Rivers used it, to make him appear hip and approachable. Appearances like that seemed important to him.
My shrink. It still sounded bizarre to me. I was the good girl, the dependable daughter, never in trouble. Stable. I was the one my friends came to for advice.
At least I used to be.
“Yes,” I said, zoning back in.
“I was asking if you’d given any more thought to what I asked last week—what do you want?”
It was one of his four core questions. What do you want? What are you afraid of? What do you dream about?
What would you change?
And I had thought about it. A lot.
“You’re safe here,” he said all wise and serene-like, as if he were leading me into meditation or hypnosis. He was a big fan of that. “I hope you know that.”
Group Therapy was not my thing, but my parents insisted I come, at least for a few months. I saw the way the others looked at me, the way everyone did. It was why my mom’s friends, the Abbotts, had recommended Dr. Rivers, because he had a thing for those who flirted with death. Those were my words, of course, not his. He talked about it in terms of surviving trauma.
Regardless, that’s what bound us, me and the other two girls sitting in the suave office. We’d all come within a blink, a breath, of dying. One by accident, one by crime, one by recklessness.
Now Dr. Rivers watched me, peering over the rim of the scholarly reading glasses I was convinced were as much a part of his costume as the chair.
“I want it to go away,” I said.
I could feel the others watching me, Zoe with her sad, haunted eyes and Lexi with her you can’t touch me smirk.
“That night,” I whispered. The accident. “I keep reliving it. It’s like being stuck in a nightmare, because even when you wake up, and there’s that moment when you kinda gasp and thank God that you’re no longer asleep, that the bad stuff is over, then…then the world catches up with you and you realize it doesn’t matter that you’re awake—that it’s worse that you’re awake.” I’d never admitted that before. To anyone. “Because everything is real, waiting for you. Because you’re living it, not dreaming it, and no matter how hard you try, the feelings never go away.”
“The feelings?” he asked. “Which feelings, Emily? Which feelings never go away?”
I knew what he thought, what they all thought, despite how many times I told them they were wrong, that the accident was just that, an accident. I was going too fast on a winding mountain road. I was fiddling with my phone, reading but not responding to texts. I’d been upset, cold inside, shaking. I’d been crying, not drinking or on something. I lost control. That was all. I didn’t run off the narrow shoulder and into a tree on purpose. I hadn’t wanted to die.
At least not really.
I wasn’t like Lexi or Hannah.
I didn’t have a death wish.
“You don’t have to tell me, if you don’t want to,” Dr. Rivers said. “But I need you to be honest with yourself.”
“Some of us have a harder time with that, than others,” Lexi muttered.
Zoe seemed to shrink further into herself.
“Everyone lies,” Dr. Rivers said. “When they’re afraid…of the truth—the consequences. To get what they want. That’s normal. But when you start lying to yourself, when you start believing those lies, that’s when you get in trouble.”
“I did that for a long time,” Zoe whispered. She was a pretty girl, all willowy and wispy, with long white-blond hair, tilted eyes an unnatural shade of blue, and an iridescent dragonfly tattoo at the base of her throat. We didn’t know each other well, but she helped me get a job at the coffee shop where she worked, and she seemed sincere. “Lied to myself. Pretended everything was okay. Hannah always—”
She broke off so abruptly I looked up, to where she sat huddled in the soft glow of the lavender vo
Hannah had been her friend.
She was also proof that having an acclaimed psychiatrist dissect your soul didn’t always solve your every problem.
He drew back, shadows darkening his eyes. “Hannah always what?”
“Said that lying was dangerous. That you have to live in the real world, no matter how messy or scary it is.” Long, corn silk-like hair falling into her face, Zoe turned toward the empty spot of the sofa, where a square, black velvet cushion sat, instead of her friend. “It’s the same thing you and L.T. say.”
That was Lexi, the daughter of my mother’s friend and one of the first members of Dr. Rivers’ Group for Damaged Girls—or as he called us, The Survivors. She sat across from the glistening black cocktail table, with her long, gorgeous sable hair flowing over her shoulders and framing her strong-boned face, opposite Zoe in every possible way. She was one of those people with the whole world in her hands, like a puppeteer who could make anything she wanted happen.
If not for Dr. Rivers, there’s no way the three of us would have chosen to be alone together.
“Is that what you’re calling him now?” Lexi mocked in that cutting ways of hers. “L.T.?”
Zoe’s chin jutted up. “He told me to.”
“And you do everything he tells you to?”
The he in question was one of the only things the two of them had in common—the cop who one viewed as a hero, the other as evil.
Zoe’s mouth tumbled open, but before she could say anything, Dr. Rivers intervened.
“Lexi, why does that bother you?”
His smile called bullshit on her. “Then why are you looking at her like that?”
Lexi angled her shoulders, tanned and bare, just like she always did when she wasn’t going to back down, but she didn’t say anything. She didn’t need to. We all knew Lexi was convinced Detective L.T. Cooper had it out for her.
“He’s not the monster you think he is,” Zoe said quietly. “If not for him, I don’t know where I’d be today.”
Every week it was the same, each of them lost in their own personal soap opera—or rather, reality show: the Zoe Show versus the Lexi Show. Working Class versus Upper Class. Have Not versus Have Everything.
Everyone Wants To Hurt Me versus I Tried To Hurt Myself.
They kept rehashing their drama while my attention wandered back to the window, to the fluffy white clouds billowing from behind the Flatirons. I’m not sure how much time passed. I was aware of voices, of words like healing and forgiveness and strength, but like strobe lights, they flashed in randomly, without context. It wasn’t until my phone buzzed that I zoned back into the moment.
Out of habit I reached into my wristlet, not giving any thought to the fact Dr. Rivers had a strict no phone policy during session, and that I shouldn’t be checking messages.
I glanced down—and saw the sender’s name.
And with nothing more than the blurry words that followed, Zoe and Lexi and Dr. Rivers, the stuffy office, everything, fell away.
We need to talk. I’m home.
When I was a little girl, I loved our house. I remember when we moved in, the sense of wonder at all the big open spaces—and the fact I got a room to myself. I remember watching new furniture show up, room by room. The kitchen was huge, with quartz countertops and hand-scraped hardwood floors. The family room was called a great room with awesome sofas and chairs, all situated around a stone fireplace and amazing TV. There was a study lined by built-in bookcases and a dining room painted black and dominated by a chandelier from Italy, a backyard with a fantastic waterfall pool, the Flatirons visible to the west.
I used to love going home and flopping on the sofa with my sister or sinking into the hot tub. But somewhere along the line all that changed, and the dream house started to feel big and empty.
Since the accident, it was a prison.
I pulled into the driveway with two hours to spare before I needed to be at work for the evening shift at The Java Joint. In the heart of downtown, in the busy Pearl Street Mall area, the funky, bohemian-style coffee shop did as much business at night as it did during the morning rush—and, unlike Zoe, I preferred the later shift.
After parking by my mom’s big SUV, I slipped out and hurried inside. I really needed to talk to her.
Goldie, our seven-year-old Golden Retriever, was the first to greet me. At the tall kitchen table, my younger sister sat slathering peanut butter onto a row of crackers. Looking up, she grinned. “You don’t look any different.”
I grabbed a cracker. “Why would I?”
“What do you do there anyway?” Haley was endlessly curious—and suspicious—about what went on behind those closed doors. “Does he like hypnotize you and ask you about what happened when you were a little girl?”
I savored the yummy peanut butter, realizing I hadn’t eaten since the scrambled egg for breakfast. It wasn’t intentional. I wasn’t trying to starve myself like Lexi did—I actually needed to eat if I was going to get back to running. I just…forgot sometimes. I never felt hungry, not since—
I broke off that thought, not wanting to go there. But the truth was all my senses were muted, filtered, as if a barrier had settled down between me and…everything I used to enjoy.
And I didn’t want that. I didn’t want a wall between me and life. I wanted to taste and smell and feel like I had before—
I grabbed another cracker.
Before no longer existed, I knew that.
There was no going back.
To something new. Different.
The new me. My new life.
It’s what I told myself, over and over and over.
“Why? You want to go with me sometime?” I teased. My very frivolous, perky little sister would never go to a shrink. Seeing the horror in her eyes, pretty and blue like our mom’s, not mossy green like mine, I grabbed a spoon and waved it back and forth. “Your eyes are getting heavy. You’re feeling sleepy…”
She knocked my hand away. “Stop that.”
I snatched another cracker. At fourteen, there was so much she still didn’t know. Sometimes I envied her that innocence. Other times, I felt sorry for all that she had yet to learn.
“What are you so afraid of?” I asked, doing my best Dr. Rivers impersonation. That was one of his favorite questions.
Haley wrinkled her nose. “Your mascara looks fine,” she observed, not taking the bait.
I laughed—she really was curious about group. “Why wouldn’t it?”
But I knew. She thought maybe I’d been crying. But I didn’t do that either, even though sometimes I wanted to.
“Any juicy secrets?” She slathered more peanut butter onto a cracker. “Slexi hookup up with anyone new?”
I grinned. Slexi was her nickname for Sleazy Lexi. “I’ll never tell.” That was a far more interesting answer than the truth, which was I had no idea. Dr. Rivers asked a lot more how and why questions, than what and who.
How did it make you feel when you saw her touch him?
Why did you open the drawer? Why did you look at the pictures? Read the letter?
Why were you driving so fast? Why didn’t you call anyone—a friend? Your sister?
Those were my questions. Lexi’s were more like: How were you feeling when you took that first pill? How did you feel after? Why did you take a second? How were you hoping to feel?
Why didn’t you stop?
Outside a horn blasted.
Haley’s face brightened. “Gotta go!” she announced, hopping up from the table and zipping toward the front door.
Through the window, I saw her climb into her boyfriend’s BMW and dive into his arms.
“Mom?” I called, automatically scooping up the peanut butter jar and crackers. Haley was ridiculously useless, except for her smile, which turned everything in her life to fourteen-karat-gold.
“I’m home,” I called, heading toward the front of the house.
Across her office, she looked up from her laptop, a phone tucked between her shoulder and ear, another in her hand. She shook her head, our eyes meeting for a brief second before she sunk back into discussing square footage and number of bedrooms.
Okay, so now wasn’t going to be the time for our talk.
Turning, I headed upstairs and, out of habit, pulled out my own phone.
Four texts—one from my old coach for a last minute babysitting gig, three from Nobody.
Sometimes I looked. Sometimes I just ignored them. Him. A few times I’d had Lexi or Zoe go in and delete everything.
He didn’t understand. Or maybe he didn’t believe me. Words were useless. There was nothing he could say or do to change what he’d already said and done.
With an absent toss, my phone landed on my perfectly made bed, a habit I had no idea why I continued, and I stripped and yanked on shorts and reached for my favorite running t-shirt.
My hands froze the second I touched the soft, well-worn cotton.
Colorado State University.
It had been my dream school since the fourth grade.
I waited for the slow burn, the ache that should’ve come. But there was only that dull blanket of numbness, and the soft, moist feel of Goldie’s nose against my cheek.
Dropping the shirt, I reached for an old Rocky Mountain National Park tee and pulled it on, then grabbed my bright blue sneakers. I had just enough time for a quick run, before my shift.
“Emily—” my mom said from the doorway. “No.”
I glanced up to see that even though she’d left her office, the demands of real estate still dominated her face. Her eyes were narrow and tired, a few strands of dark blond hair falling from her twist, her lips pale and cracked.
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